Sunday, September 2, 2012

Why I am a Vegetarian

With lentils, tomatoes and rice, olives and nuts and bread,
Why does a man care to gnaw a slice of something bleeding and dead?

(interspersed throughout the post are pictures of vegetarian meals I have made over the past month- just to show you that vegetarian eating is good for you, healthy, colorful, creative, and delicious!)

“But why don’t you eat meat?” That’s a question that has been posed to me countless times over the past 11 months that I’ve been a vegetarian.  People seem to be so curious and I find it interesting how they’re intrigued; yet whenever someone ends up making further comments such as “Eating meat is natural to us omnivorous humans- do not deprive yourself of it” and “How can you not like meat?” I feel like throwing out the question: why DO you eat meat?! And furthermore, I’m not writing books and giving lectures on the benefits of vegetarianism so kindly let me live my own life in my own little bubble. I never harp on and preach about the benefits of vegetarianism and I never try to convert people to it so I think people should take that into consideration and let it be a personal choice which affects nobody but myself. I don’t preach about vegetarianism to the point that I cook meat whenever I have guests over. For me, it’s simply a personal choice and although I may not be making an impact on what I believe in (how animals should be treated) I’m doing the minimum that I can by refraining from something that I find disturbing.
aubergines baked with a buttermilk herb sauce

Ever since I was in my mid-teens, I started getting queasy at the idea of eating meat. Whenever there would be a piece of meat on my plate, I’d inevitably think of the animal that it once was- a fluffy, bouncy little lamb, or maybe an adorable hen. That imagery alone was enough to put me off from eating whatever was on my plate but I would keep on telling myself to just push away those images and eat the meat. And inevitably, as I’d chew the meat I’d keep on thinking that this is DEAD FLESH that I am eating and putting into my body. Many people reading this might feel disgusted walking up to a dead animal whose guts are pouring out…but that is exactly what the meat that’s on your plate for lunch was before it entered the factory then the supermarket then your kitchen and eventually your digestive system. So how can you put something into your body through your mouth when you wouldn’t even be able to bring yourself to touch it?

rocket leaves and walnut-ready to be turned into a pesto with some other ingredients

When I think of myself as a middle-aged woman, I don’t see myself as still being vegetarian. For some reason I think I’ll give in and start eating meat at one point. But the interesting thing is that the longer I am a vegetarian, the more unfathomable the concept of me eating meat becomes. And- the longer I am a vegetarian, the easier eating out gets. Plus, I’ve discovered such creative ways of cooking vegetables this past year because being vegetarian has made me put in the effort to finding diverse ways of using vegetables. And on a side note to those who, like myself, love aesthetically pleasing things: vegetables just look so much prettier with all their bright colors and textures than a brown, rubbery, dull slab of meat does.

So although I kept on pushing away the idea of becoming a vegetarian, eventually I decided to gather my strength, courage, and determination and give it a go. I was a vegetarian for precisely a week when I was at a friend’s house and I just gave in and ate chicken. The same thing happened at another friend’s house a week later. I just found it too difficult. Coming from this region- the Middle East- being a vegetarian is quite difficult- INITIALLY. But now I have no problems whatsoever.

mini caprese tartlets

I’ll be completely honest with you- I don’t have such a strong issue with meat that if a rice dish was cooked with chicken I will not eat the rice. I do eat the rice, while omitting the huge pieces of chicken legs or chicken breasts that happen to be in it. And, I eat eggs. Heck, I’m a baker. And a conventional one, too. So I need eggs. And I eat fish. I do not deny the importance of protein and regardless of the fact that tofu and quinoa etc… are great sources of protein, nothing tops meat. And that’s why I eat fish. It’s white meat, so healthier than red meat. And it’s fished out of the sea so not injected with hormones and the “living conditions” are not the conditions farm animals are exposed to, but more on that later… (ALTHOUGH, I must mention that when people find out I am a vegetarian that eats fish- or a pescetarian- I am constantly bombarded with comments that says “Oh, but fish have feelings too. Aren’t they living things?” Well, my lovelies, it has been proven that plants [i.e. vegetables] have feelings too and they are living. And no, I will NOT become a fruitarian……)

I should say now though that this essay is not based on any scientific research whatsoever. It is simply a reflection on why I am a vegetarian and what made me become so and although I did watch videos and read articles about the poultry industry for example, statistics and details of this didn’t really factor into my decision of becoming a vegetarian- although the general topic did: animal cruelty.

So if I were to provide one reason for why I am a vegetarian it would be the cruel practices of factories and corporations and industries today. The food industry is a huge one but in my utopian universe, food would not be a profit-generating industry. It would not be used politically and it would not be turned into a business. Food would be there to feed people and that is it. It would be there to simply feed those who need it and any industry affiliated with it would be non-profit, non-governmental organizations focused on distributing the food equally.

pesto, sundried tomato, and goat's cheese puff pastries

It depresses me to think of the tons and tons and tons of food being wasted all over the world on a daily basis to the point that I sometimes refuse to think about it. But I must face these demons, battle them, and work towards making a change- regardless of how small that change may be…

But going back to topic: the primary reason that I am a vegetarian is because I oppose the practices of major food corporations and factories. I’ve watched videos, read articles, and heard conversations that all revolve around the same topic: how the hens are made to sit in metal cages, how they are forced to eat their own feces, how they are injected with hormones to fatten them up, how they are killed (with a simple crack to the neck in many cases if you must know), and how- most disgustingly- they are genetically modified to make it easier for them to be killed. How can anyone be so blind as to see what is happening is wrong? Forget the fact that the practices are downright cruel- THEY ARE HARMFUL TO YOUR BODY. And the least you owe yourself is to take care of that body- of which you only have one- and to take care of your life- which once it has passed will never come back.

beetroot, walnut, goat's cheese, and frissee salad

This following point might seem a bit quirky or maybe downright loony but I am uncomfortable with the idea that a living creature (non-plant) is being made to suffer just so I can put a bit of it into my mouth WHEN I CAN EASILY SURVIVE WITHOUT IT. I see it as a form of slavery and my conscience just don’t let me enjoy my meal knowing that animals have had to suffer because I am too stubborn to see the injustice and unhealthiness of these practices. I can’t seem to feel comfortable with the idea that a living creature’s sole purpose of life is to die so that I can be fed. NO. Don’t you see how wrong this is?!

PERHAPS, perhaps, I MIGHT eat meat in the future if I knew exactly how the chicken was raised and how it died. Ideally I would eat a chicken that had lived its entire life on a farm, frolicking in the fields, sleeping in hay… and when it has reached its old age, it is slaughtered in as humane a way as possible (by not making the animal see the blade, by a swift cut to the neck to minimize pain, and by making sure you act kind towards it beforehand by feeding it and giving it water to drink: this is actually the Islamic way of slaughtering animals for food- and this is what “halal” means so I really don’t get why some residents and citizens of Western countries get all paranoid and intimidated when their local fast food chain says that it serves “halal” but that’s another essay in itself.. one that is much more politically nuanced than this…. So moving on….) But still, no matter how idyllic the image of the hen frolicking in fields of gold is (insert Sting reference here) I think I still would not be able to eat that meat because the texture just puts me off…

I’ll be lying if I say that my decision to go vegetarian had nothing to do with health reasons. It partially had to do with health reasons but not because I wanted cut down on calories on eliminate red meat: it had to do with the fact that chicken (the type of meat that was primarily what I ate) is almost always injected with hormones and is almost always mass-produced (sounds disgusting when I apply that factory term to a living thing, doesn’t it?) and that by its very explanation should deter anyone from eating meat. Just the same way an extremely health-conscious person steers away from packaged and tinned foods, so should one stay away from meat due to the practices used to obtain it.

orzo pasta with tomatoes, olives, mozzarella

So, to conclude, I am a vegetarian because to me it seems like the logical thing to do. I would love to do more to spread awareness about the practices of meat factories and corporations and to minimize as much as possible the suffering that millions of animals go through on a daily basis simply so they can enter your stomachs (in an unhealthy way!) but for now, I am doing the least that I can and am simply pondering the deeper, more philosophical points of vegetarianism.

And before I forget, another response I would like to mention here is that: “If everyone was vegetarian, we’d have hens and cows and goats take over the world.” Well, let me assure you that I think there are already waaaay more chickens than humans on Planet Earth. Secondly, the reason there are SO many farm animals is because of supply and demand: these farm animals are excessively bred BECAUSE there is so much demand for meat. As the demand goes down so will the supply, eventually. And no I do not think that EVERY ONE of use 7 billion people on Earth should be a vegetarian because at the end of the day: even though animals are living creatures that must be treated with kindness, they are ultimately there for humans to thrive. Leather, wool, meat, cheese, eggs, etc… all this provides a livelihood to people but the way to go about it is for industries dealing with farm animals to be small businesses and individual suppliers- no mass production, no profit-maximization.

FINALLY, yes I do realize that dairy products and eggs come from farm animals that are also exposed to equally horrendous conditions as the animals used for meat but I am doing what I can in my personal diet right now and I do not think I am ready to make the step towards veganism. 

I hope you enjoyed reading this essay. It is simply my take on things... 

sundried tomato, basil, and feta cheese frittatas